10 questions to ask yourself before buying your first camper van
Do your research and consider these things before you make the investment:
Written by Dovile Reid Photography- Photography for the Adventurous
An adventure landscape & lifestyle photographer who travels the continental US in a Mercedes REVEL Class B Coach.
Camper vans are increasingly growing in popularity, and in my opinion, for good reason. From your beloved family RV you grew up around to now the compact, off-road capable, adventure-loving camper vans. So, whether you saw the adventurous lifestyle of an Instagram Influencer that you want to re-create for yourself or you're wanting to relive those childhood memories with a family of your own, you have decided to make the leap into the best investment yet, and I am so excited for you!
Whatever your circumstances and your needs, you want to make sure you do your research, set your budget, and consider a few very important things before you go all-in and make the plunge. As someone who dedicated a whole year of research, test-trials and nonstop phone calls to professionals who know their rigs, I have put together the 10 most important questions to ask yourself to help get the process rolling.
1. Can you afford to start simple or take a few test runs first?
How do you know what you need or want if you have never tried it before? Jumping into such a big investment requires some trial and error. Start out with a simple/old beater van and "make it work" for a little while- what type of issues do you run into? What works and what doesn't work? Starting out simple allows you to not jump into a huge investment until you KNOW what is worth investing in.
Don't have the time or patience to go through more than one camper van? Try renting a few different styles/models for your next couple of roadtrips! This is the route my husband and I went with and we learned so much with testing a few different types as well as styles of rigs. Start out with local camper van companies in your area or give Outdoorsy, Escape Camper Vans, or RV Share a try!
2. How will you use it?
Are you the adventurous newly married couple looking to explore all 50 states in the roadtrip of a lifetime? Maybe you're the adventure enthusiast that ski's, rock climbs, mountain bikes, and paddle-boards so you need a very gear-focused rig? Or maybe you're just looking for a cozy home-feel on the road? Whatever your purpose, make sure you keep that in mind when making the investment. After all, it's your second home on wheels!
3. How many people are you planning to sleep?
Most camper vans (aka Class B coaches- more on that below) are able to accommodate 1-2 people very comfortably. Start adding kids or guests, and this can get to be a little bit more complicated. Think about the orientation you would like to sleep. How tall are you? Will you need to add additional side flares to sleep comfortably? Is a pop-up roof tent an option for the rig you're wanting? Sleep is important- take some time with this one.
4. THE GOLDEN QUESTION: Bathroom or no bathroom?
Ah, the heavenly debate on whether a bathroom is needed. I personally decided I would like a bathroom. As a female, often solo traveler, this was something that I would enjoy in the middle of the night or at a creepy old gas station parking lot. Others will say it takes up too much space and is unneccessary. Whatever your initial thoughts are, I would recommend pondering the pros and cons of both situations and considering all the different options available out there these days. Our rig sits with a detachable toilet inside the shower/closet as well as an outdoor shower for those nice summer days or rinsing off our dirty gear before storing it inside. We have only used the indoor shower as a closet space up to this point (which is also very nice), but let me tell you, that toilet is a blessing that saves us so much time without any "Potty Breaks" during those long stretches on the road.
5. All-season? 4WD Capabilities?
This topic was huge for us! Living in Colorado, we can get stuck in the middle of a snowstorm in June/July, so this was a factor that was a dealbreaker for us. Yet, if you live on the West Coast and plan to not come to the Rocky Mountains, you may not need to invest in these capabilities. Also consider the insulation in a conversion build as well as make the investment in a good set of tires (at very least with decent traction)- your camper van isn't the lightest vehicle you will own.
6. High-roof vs Low-roof?
Biggest question to ask regarding this: Do you want to be able to stand up in your camper van?
If you decide to go with a low-roof, maybe consider adding a pop-top roof for added space and bye-bye to drive-thru's and parking garages if you go with the high-roof option.
7. Do you want to be able to fit in a parking spot?
This is where the terminology Class A, B, C came about in the RV industry- it all stems from the length of your motorhome.
Class A: Will be your luxury RV's that are literally a "home-on-wheels" and usually run from 29-45 feet in length (Good luck learning how to drive that thing!) If you're planning on converting an old school bus, this is the length you will be most accustomed to.
Class B: This is most camper vans (and what this blog is all about) for they only range from 18-24 feet and are designed to be compact and easy to navigate. So at most, this coach will take up two parking spots.
Class C: Right in the middle of the two lies a good 21-41 feet RV that you remember from your favorite family vacations or Cruise America.
8. How do you plan to power it? How much power do you need?
If you're planning on fully living on the road, this will be a key factor in your decision making. If you're not a full-time Vanlifer, there are multiple options available and will vary depending on your energy needs. Will you need Wi-Fi? Do you plan on boondocking for multiple days? Will you plug-in to shore power? Rely solely on solar power? Generator maybe?
9. Will you buy new or used?
This is always a big question and it definitely was for us. The two main factors to consider are your overall budget and your handyman/automotive skills. Will you be able to get yourself out of a situation if you break down in the middle of nowhere?
Your used vans will obviously be cheaper, but also come with more miles and wear-and-tear from the previous owner(s). New vans come at a much higher price tag.
10. Will you DIY? Buy already manufactured? Or maybe use a custom outfitter?
And last, but obviously not least, how will your conversion take place? The handy men out there that are patient and have the time, may want to consider a DIY project. Others, if it is a financially good option, may consider buying a chassis and sending it to a custom outfitter for completion. Or, you may be like us, and decide that you will leave it all to the professionals and buy an already manufactured van.
I know, lots to think about!
At very least, I hope these questions get you off to a good start.
Dovile Reid Photography
Adventure Landscape Photographer
- Colorado Based -
Dovile Reid Photography is a lifestyle and landscape photographer based out of Boulder, CO with a major emphasis on adventure. Unless stated otherwise, all blog and social media posts are written from the perspective of Dovile Reid.
Dovile fell in love with capturing images that create a memory or a sense of feeling in someone's life. She believes life is too short to let beautiful moments pass by.